27 April 2024

Territorial Justice and Reconciliation Youth Forum: Rising to the challenge

Matt and Hannah

A photo shows the members of the Territorial Justice and Reconciliation Youth Forum gathered around a large table in THQ.

Matt (York) and Hannah (Sheerness) introduce the Territorial Justice and Reconciliation Youth Forum.

Two years ago, Collins Dictionary named ‘permacrisis’ as their word of the year. We had lived through a global pandemic, felt the squeeze of spiralling energy costs and watched war, climate disasters, a tanking economy, political turmoil and global insecurity threaten those already most vulnerable in society. Justice, reconciliation and a politics of empathy seemed far from reach.

There were, however, millions of ordinary people playing their small part in the work of change. Joanna Taylor (Children and Youth Department) was already working on plans to platform the voices of young people in The Salvation Army’s work towards justice and reconciliation. Now, with Territorial Co-ordinator for Justice and Reconciliation Major Nick Coke and Territorial Youth and Children’s Secretary Lieutenant Jonny Whitmore, she has brought together the first ever Territorial Justice and Reconciliation Youth Forum.

The forum is a collective of 17 young people with a central, faith-grounded commitment to work for justice and reconciliation, ‘on Earth as it is in Heaven’ (Matthew 6:10). We gathered for the first time in March at THQ for discussion, reflection and vision-building

It began with introductions from Major Nick and a reminder of our Christ-centred vision of fullness of life for all. Icebreaker games with Lieutenant Jonny brought everyone out of their shells, sparking excited conversation and requiring clear communication – a skill vital for the afternoon’s discussions.

We looked out from THQ’s rooftop terrace and were encouraged to notice landmarks, listening to where God was calling us to seek justice in society. This was followed by a visit to the International Heritage Centre, full of stories of the Army’s rich history of justice-seeking. Displays illustrating decades of frontline work acted as a reminder that we do not do this work in isolation; we belong to an ecosystem of social change and must not lose sight of our identity and calling in the fight for a just society.

All these reflections proved valuable for the afternoon’s discussions, where we thought more deeply about our forum’s place among all the other organisations working for social justice. We explored the standards we should hold ourselves to, with a particular emphasis on the way we speak about other people. If we believe every person is created in the image of God, how does that change our relationships with those we disagree with? How might it inform the language we use about them?

A photo shows members of the Territorial Justice and Reconciliation Youth Forum in discussion while sat around tables in a small meeting room in THQ.

The afternoon also included discussions about the specific issues the forum should focus on. We thought about areas we are passionate about and have in common. These were complex discussions, but each member rose to the challenge with understanding and eloquence.

The forum’s three focuses for the next year are mental health, the climate emergency and modern slavery, with the common thread of electoral participation among young people as we approach a UK general election.

While the forum has been established to work on issues in wider society, it is important to note that our desire for justice and reconciliation applies to the internal Salvation Army too. Our recommendations to the leadership of this territory will not neglect this.

Getting to know...

We are hugely grateful for the support we have received already. As we move forward, we are thrilled to introduce the forum and the committee that will lead each area of work. Please pray for the forum, continue to support your local young people and, if there is anything you would like to raise with us, contact childrenyouth@salvationarmy.org.uk.

We know what it is to grow up in a time of permacrisis. We are committed to playing our small part in the work of change.

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